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Tips to prevent computer elbow

A woman sitting is sitting at a desk with her chin in her hand and her other hand on the mouse pad of a laptop. She leans into the computer and appears to be working. She has shoulder-length brown hair and wears a black top.

Computer or mouse elbow is basically the same condition as tennis elbow. It’s a repetitive stress injury characterized by muscle pain, tendon pain, or a combination of both. Known medically as lateral epicondylitis, it is caused by repetitively gripping and squeezing an object. In the case of computer elbow, the object is the mouse you are constantly holding onto and moving on a daily basis.

Although using your mouse is hardly a strenuous activity like tennis, over time it can cause the extensor muscles in your forearm to become fatigued and start to wear down. This causes your muscles to contract and constrict resulting in pain in the outer portion of your elbow that can extend down your forearm into your wrist and hand.

Here are 10 tips to help you avoid computer elbow:

  1. Make sure your mouse is close by and easy to use. If it’s too high or too far away, you’ll be forced to repeatedly overextend your forearm to use it, increasing your risk of injury. Your mouse should be positioned at your side with your arm close to your body. A straight line should be maintained between your hand and your forearm. Also, make sure the mouse fits your hand. If it’s too small, your finger, hand and wrist muscles will have to remain in a tense position to use it. Your hand should be as relaxed as possible.
  2. Position your keyboard correctly. Make sure your keyboard is directly in front of you. Your wrists should be extended straight, not bent up or down. Don’t raise the back of your keyboard—it actually increases the strain on your wrists. To keep your hands and arms in the appropriate straight line, try lowering the back of the keyboard or adjusting your chair instead.
  3. Use a wrist pad. Your hands should be level with the keyboard. If they’re not, use a wrist pad to make them so.
  4. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Don’t let your shoulders hunch up around your ears while you’re working. Remind yourself to relax. Muscle tension in the shoulders can radiate down into the arms.
  5. Keep your desk clear. Clutter makes you reach and extend more often. There should be a clear space between your keyboard, mouse, and working area to minimize muscle work.
  6. Stretch your fingers. Fingers that are constantly curled can cause writer’s elbow. Every 30 minutes stop and stretch them back toward you. Get up and walk around with your hands down to allow the blood to flow into them.
  7. Maintain a 90-degree angle. While working at your computer, your forearms should form a 90-degree angle with your upper arm. If you find your forearms are too low or (worse) too high, adjust your chair and keyboard to fix it.
  8. Keep your fingers in line with your forearm. Use a rolled up towel or other cushion to keep your fingers in line with the backs of your hands and your arms—similar to how they would be if you were playing the piano.
  9. Use a split keyboard. A split keyboard helps your hands stay in a more natural line.
  10. Strengthen your muscles. Increasing muscle strength can help prevent computer elbow from occurring in the first place or recurring in the future. Try squeezing a tennis ball 25 times, or make a fist with your hand and then bend your wrist forward and back using only your hand.
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